Tuesday, September 22, 2009

If the Roadway Were Designed Like a Bike Lane

Once upon a time, the Merchants of Ennis complained
that their revenue would not be sustained.
The speeding cars wouldn't come to a stop.
This was causing city commerce to flop.

"Our hamlet is small, but it would mean better pay,
if only more folks would stop and stay.
To swing to the right and parallel park,
it is hard for our customers, even when it's not dark.

"I agree"; said then Mayor, "Parallel parking's a curse."
As he watched merchants money placed in his purse.
"Angled parking is needed to bring customers down,
and bring prosperity back to our town!"

So he called together city staff and his team,
and told them about his prosperity scheme.
Our future is bright,
(My re-election is in sight!)
and this was certainly the key.
He wanted the Engineers of Ennis to "make it be".

The Engineers of Ennis set out to fulfill the wishes of the city staff;
To not do so could cut a career in half.
(If you are a traffic engineer,
this point is very clear:
Take a principled stand-
in a basement you will land.
It sounds awfully callous,
but that's how it is done in Dallas.)

Armed with tape measures and fluorescent paint,
using historical methods now thought of as quaint,
the Ernest Engineers sought out a plan to produce
parking at angles and high sales juice.
They measured the height of the curbs and the width of the street.
They wished West Ennis Avenue had a just few more feet.

"Oh, dear!", exclaimed the Engineers, "Angled parking won't work in this town,
the Customers will be in peril when they back out with traffic around.
Keeping parallel parking is what will keep their cars sound."

"We are doomed!" Shouted the Merchants of Ennis; "Our future is bleak!
Without parking lanes, the customer will stay in his home all week,
for he is afraid to parallel park on the busy West Ennis street!"

"We need more autos at angles!
It must be finagled.
When our customers don't stop
for a bite or a pop,
our books won't balance and they end up in tangles!"

So the City Fathers told the Ernest Engineers,
to make a new plan to avoid any tears.

"I know!' said one of the Ernest Engineers, who thought European ways were neat,
"We can make the portion of West Ennis Avenue that needs angled parking a two lane street."

With new inspiration held firmly in mind,
they set out to make the street a European kind.
The Engineers worked through the day and late into the night.
Alas, they still had no plan when the dawn was in sight.

"It can't be done!" Moaned one. And so it seemed.
Each plan in its turn got creamed.
For every time they moved a line, say from A to B,
another problem would pop up, over at C.

"Over to the east where the railroad tracks sit,
it is too close to downtown, I am at the end of my wit!
Try as I might I can't make it fit."

"There are rules and standards and such.
I have been trained to know that much!
They need us to start many blocks to the east
should we want to comply with State Law, at the least.
But it will cause traffic jams beyond all reason,
even when it is not high shopping season!"

"In Europe, you know", said the first; "they have more reasonable notions when it comes to parking and traffic and such. Let's just erase the right lane and let the drivers do what they want. That's how it works for the Dutch."

"We like it." Said the City Fathers. "For now we can have more autos at angles, which is a good thing.
Our Merchants of Ennis will be so happy they will sing!
(And into our campaign coffers their coin will ring!)"

The Mayor of Ennis pulled aside the chief of police the next day.
"I have a request of you, if I may?
Should a Coveted Customer the law not obey,
would you do us a favor and look away?
It is needed for prosperity, what do you say?"

"The signs will say 'merge left'," said the city DA,
"but we will be silent if drivers of autos do not obey.
Should some poor sap get his car in a wreck,
it will be his fault, his neck.
We shall say "We warned you my dear!"
and so we will always be in the clear."

And so it came to be that both parking at angles and contempt for the law came to downtown Ennis Texas.

The above tale is how I imagine the horrible traffic engineering came about in Ennis Texas. I look at its present configuration, and this is how I assume it had to come about. I have no idea as to the various people who were actually the animating forces, nor their role in it. I doubt I could find out, would you want to be associated with this?

Very few operators of vehicles are able to navigate through westbound West Ennis Avenue without making multiple violations of state traffic laws, but I have never seen them enforced. I am sure that any case brought against a traveler through there would result in a return to parallel parking, for without local knowledge of the situation, breaking the law cannot be avoided if you approach the area in the right lane.

First, between I-45 about a mile to the east, and Waxahachi, ten miles to the west, this street is a four lane boulevard, sometimes with a fifth suicide left turn only center lane. It is choked down to a two lane for these four blocks in all that way. This was done to shoe-horn angled parking into this section. Blatant lawlessness is tolerated to avoid inevitable traffic snarls if both angled parking and obedience to traffic laws were to exist at the same time.

I have blogged about an encounter I had going east through here, and I posted pictures as well. I often changed lanes across a solid white line within a few feet of railroad tracks, and I know now that I shouldn't do so. It is strongly discouraged in Texas to change lanes within 200 feet of a railroad crossing, an intersection or within an intersection. Which is why the newly formed lane begins with a solid white line. Shown here going east:

But it is really fouled up beyond all recognition in the westbound lanes. There is a short series of signaled intersections, an at grade railroad crossing and poor sight-lines caused by the terrain that make the situation unworkable- not that that made any difference!

The sign telling vehicle operators to merge left is beyond the point that they can lawfully do so. The instruction comes after one has already entered the 200 foot railroad zone. Further, the operator cannot see the single lane ahead because of the railroad tracks.

Once you cross the railroad tracks and it is clear your lane ends, you are forced to either merge across a solid wide line, merge in the intersection, or merge after you have entered the angled parking zone.

As you can see. most motorists continue on as if there were two travel lanes available. However, if a vehicle who is parked in a marked parking space edges out and hits you, it is the fault of the person in the "right lane", not the parked operator, because it is often impossible to observe folks driving on the right, as you can also see.

How could a traffic engineer sign off on such monstrosity in good conscience? It is inevitable that injury and property damage will be the result of this attractive nuisance. It seems to me that we could have any two of the three competing interests, at the detriment to the third.

Angled parking and lawful engineering and enforcement, to the detriment of high traffic flow.

Angled parking and high traffic flow at the expense of holding lawful behavior in contempt.

High traffic flow and compliance with the law, without angled parking.

Obviously, this is no big deal for the locals around here. But how is one to lawfully and safely traverse this section of the public road on a bicycle?

If the "wink wink" two lane section is supposed to really be an extra wide lane, where does the cyclist ride in light of our far-to-right laws? In the formerly right lane where parked vehicles can pull out on him? In the "left" lane, the escape route of vehicles passing him on the right?

This section of West Ennis Avenue is what all streets would look like if they were built like most bike lanes are.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Bella Bites Again!

It rained some more today, but I was undeterred. I have a fendered single speed for just such occasions.

I don't often ride in the rain, mostly because it is relatively rare here. The rain comes hard and fast, and then clears off. But it has rained sporadicly Friday, very hard all night and then it was light rain all day today. (More than 4 and one half inches at dusk today by my rain gauge.) But while I rarely ride in the rain, most of my crashes have occurred in wet conditions. [1] I therefor never ride in the rain without my helmet. [2]

I hadn't been on this bike since I my rear-wheel spoke needed to be fixed, (July?) so I was making adjustments as I left the house- lower handlebars, so more weight on my hands. Shorter cranks, so my feet make smaller circles, stuff like that.

I ride up toward Bud and Bella's house, and a gang of five dogs hanging around spot me from afar. When I rode up, they are waiting in the road for me. I am concerned that one of them will dash under a wheel and take me down. Bella is great fun when it is just her and Bud. In those situations, she is content to just have a good run.

But she is a different dog in a pack. She is aggressive. I am convinced it has to do with wolf-pack hierarchy and status. She feels compelled to be the dominant one. So I am focused on her.

Bella comes at me from my front right and the rest are milling about. Bella leaps up and attempts to bite my hand or arm. She misses but catches my my handlebar instead. This precipitates a diversion style fall: My bicycle goes right, and I continue straight and down, rolling on my forearm-shoulder-back.

This all played out at a rather slow speed, so I am unhurt, but gee whiz! I climb back on my bike after adjusting the brake handle to it's proper position, and continue on, slinging ammonia at any dog that comes near. Within moments, the incident is out of my thoughts, and I have a nice trip to town.

I have made a habit of favoring a longer route to town because it has smoother roads, but it also has three railroad crossings, two of which are at a steep angle. I avoid that way in the wet. No need to tempt fate on wet train tracks! So I return back the way I came.

This time, I wasn't spotted as soon, but not so late that I can get a lead on them. Bella crosses the road in front of me and again attacks on my right side. I maneuver away and fling ammonia at her, but I miss, as does she. She crosses behind me while I avoid other dogs in front of me, and the distraction prevents me from switching hands on the ammonia bottle. Bella comes up behind me on my left and she bites my left leg and pulls me down. (I crash.) I am again doing the forearm-shoulder roll on the same side, but this time I get to use the groceries in my messenger bag to cushion part of the fall! (None of the eggs broke, imagine that!)

Picture the scene: Five barking dogs running every which way in the rain; A crazed and bleeding cyclist splashing through puddles in his cleats, chasing Bella across her yard to home; Four of Bella's people yelling at the dogs and running every which way trying to corral them... Whoo-wee we had us a ruckus!

After I came to my senses, and I had checked my bicycle for damage and peeked at the eggs, Bella's folks provided medical care. (We decided not to wait for Obama to provide it for us) They ruined some great pictures by being nice and cleaning up most of the blood.

WARNING! Photos of Bella's loving caresses follow this announcement. Be advised that ChipSeal took these pictures of himself while in the shower! (YIKES!) Yes, my dear readers, both of you have been warned: Yet more body part photos.[3]

To help orient you, Bella's nose is on my shin side, and her lower mandible was on my calf side.

The calf wounds are simple puncture injuries, but not as deep as the shin injury, where the punctures are deeper and there is a bit of tearing from the twisting movements caused by the dynamics of our motions at the moment of the bite.

While these photos are dramatic, and the wounds gory, they are not very painful, and I am not very concerned about them. I think the blood stained socks makes for a great "war story"! It is said that puncture wounds are the most prone to infection, But it bled freely and hydrogen peroxide was liberally applied within minutes of the injury. I don't think professional medical care would be able to do much more. I am more concerned that Bella will get sick from biting me!

This next photo is included purely as an ego shot, as I remembered to flex my calf muscle before taking it. How 'bout them guns, eh?

So those are the facts. Now to the judgment. Going forward, I need to be more cautious if Bella is out with friends. I am grieved that Bella will lose her freedom over this, as her kennel will soon become more secure. I hope Bella will be allowed to freely roam if the other dogs are penned up for a while- sort of a rotational thing.

As I pointed out in the first post about Bella's bites, we had three or four runs a week for more than a year when she was content to just run alongside the road enjoying the "chase". It is the wolf-pack dynamics in the presence of other dogs that seems to bring out her aggressiveness.

And now to classification. I had two crashes today. In the rain. The first one was a wee bit over the average of miles between crashes, and the second was considerably shorter than average. (I crash about once every 1,500 miles) The averages are a bit misleading though, as this is the second time two of them occurred on the same day- Although on that other day only one of them was in the rain!

Until today, all of my crashes that happened in the rain were because of the wet conditions. (And my failure to adjust how I operated my vehicle in those conditions.)
Ain't statistics fun?

Oddly, in both crashes, I fell in the exact same way, breaking my fall in a safe and controlled way, without thought. Perhaps in doing it just once I would not even be bruised, it was so smooth. (After the first crash I remember being annoyed that my left sleeve was now covered in road grime. I didn't think I had been hurt at all.) But pull that move twice and you feel it the second time!

My helmet has no scrapes that show it was needed, but because the event was not observed by a scientist, we cannot claim it as evidence for anything.

With that observation, I close this chapter of ChipSeal's real life adventures in Texas. I would hope the next chapter is not so dramatic. Please!

[1] I count it a crash when I hit the pavement. I exclude, however, clip out failure type falls from the tally. Those aren't crashes, they are just amusing entertainment for onlookers.

[2] I do not regard cycling in the rain inherently dangerous. I think that I ride in a dangerous manner in the rain. Nearly all of my wet weather crashes are due to my not adjusting for the conditions while turning. I am good at allowing for a greater stopping distance, so that hasn't been a problem.

[3] It is becoming ever more clear to me why fashion models earn the kind of money they do. My body is in no way photogenic!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Computer Trouble!

To my loyal reader, an update!

My internet provider has chosen to stop servicing my area, and I have not yet replaced it. My banking and such are performed over the net, so this process has been hindered because my lap-top crashed and will not re-boot.

This note is being sent via a friend's computer at a public hot-spot. (All hail Rockin' R; keeper of a working portable computer! Thanks Rod!)

I shall give a proper whiny blog-post when I am able. Any comments may have severe delays before they are approved, due to the intermittent ability for me to log on.

This too shall pass, and in a few weeks it will be a long forgotten experience.

Tailwinds to all!